Monday, March 14, 2011

Down the Rabbit Hole!

This week Rachel Rambach, creator of the Listen & Learn blog and member's site (I am a regular reader of her blog and a member of her member's site) posted a story recalling her path to becoming a music therapist.  Her request to hear from her readers struck a chord within me.

I wrote her a long response about my professional journey to this point.  I'm taking her advice to post my own story on my own blog!  Here it is... 

A Joyful, Unexpected Career Path
Down the Rabbit Hole!

I have a degree in Education. I’ve always known I would be a teacher. From the age of 3 or 4 years old I knew this.  I thought I would always be a classroom teacher but I only did that for 10 years. I now work with babies and young children and run my own music & movement school.

Early Influences
I imagine my own early childhood years shaped my intuitive and empathic ability to be present with people with special challenges. One of my two sisters had such severe physical and cognitive challenges she lived full-time in a children’s hospital. I spent much of my childhood assisting, observing and existing with unusual life circumstances.

University Days
I read very briefly about music therapy in the library at university and thought it sounded intense. I felt called to be a teacher and not a therapist. In those days (about 30 years ago) music therapy was very “fringe”. It wasn’t something encouraged or pursued by many and there were few obvious employment opportunities. It would have been very difficult to shadow one and so I did not have really any clue about that field other than the judgments I made on my own.

If I had had more info and someone to watch or talk with, I think I would have studied and become a board-certified music therapist. My personality seems more suited to the sort of focus a music therapist has than a music educator or music performer has. I think this may be why my business has been successful…working with babies and very young children requires a huge dose of developmental knowledge and musical skill combined with people skill.

Educator or Therapist?
Much of my teaching career has actually been spent doing very music-therapyish-type things. I accrued 2 specialty teaching areas while completing my education degree, one as a special needs teacher and one as a music teacher.

Somehow, I naturally combined my knowledge of the two areas, particularly after leaving the school system to run my own school. The children’s hospitals in our area would refer children to my programs because I seemed to have “a way” with special needs children (the term “special needs” was the politically correct term in those days). After a few years, I had a bit of a rep in the community and other teachers and families in the community would seek me out for support with their children.

All Kinds of Kids
I ended up working with children diagnosed with autism, a variety of syndromes from Asperger’s to Moebius, brain damage that affected children physically, cognitively, emotionally and those suffering from a variety of abuses as well as children with terminal illness. I have been invited to work on therapeutic teams with other children’s therapists because of all this. I have become adept at writing comprehensive evaluations for music therapy purposes. I found it’s similar to writing a report card but each one takes much longer.

Public School Teaching
Even as a classroom teacher, I would find every September my classes would be heavily loaded with the “eccentric” and “challenged” children. I once questioned another teacher about this and she told me they (the other teachers on staff) would always give me the kids with learning problems and other challenges because they knew I would do everything in my power to get them the support they needed and that I would “love them anyway”.   That may have contributed to my deciding to leave the public system and “just teach music”.:)

A Conscious Decision
I left the school system 18 years ago, and it’s only been in the last year that I made a conscious decision NOT to work further as an alternative-type music teacher/therapist. I have asked the hospitals not to refer to me. I am now mostly focused on the “average” child and family. There are several board-certified music therapists in our town now. I encourage families to contact those professionals.

Life can take you to places you have no idea or plan to go to sometimes. I am lucky to love what I do and to have been able to make a living being joyful, working hard and playing creatively with music, movement and children.

Writing a bit about my journey leaves me with a satisfied feeling.  It's a tool to acknowledge where I am now in my own professional development.  I encourage you to reflect on your own path, where you've been, where you are and where you may be going!


  1. Hi Susan! I'm SO glad you posted your story. (Thanks also for the mention.) I love knowing more about the journeys that led my friends to where they are today :) And I'm very impressed by your use of Picnik!

  2. Hi Rachel,
    Thank you for your encouragement to post my story!
    It really is a great feeling to look back and see that life moves on.:) And I AM having fun with Picnik. Something I discovered through you and your Listen & Learn member's site.


Comments welcome

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